Where and when do we eat?

Title in Finnish: “Syömisen ajat ja paikat” (3/2012 Hyvinvointikatsaus) is an article published in the National Consumer Research Centre. The author of the article is Johanna Varjonen, a Senior Researcher at the Centre.

The recent change in eating habits has made buying ingredients and planning meals a much easier and less time-consuming task. The wide spread of microwave ovens in the 1980s made it effortless for families to heat up ready-made meals and eat at different times. However, over the past three decades, our eating habits have changed. The mainstay of our eating patterns for many years has been the meal that we take at home with our families.

Nowadays, dining at a restaurant has evolved into a more restricted notion, as opposed to its previous broad definition. Dining out has also become a regular occurrence for many individuals, although it still maintains its extraordinary quality for special occasions or events. Previously, dining out during our leisure time was considered extraordinary, but now it has become a more frequent happening.

Given that the activity in question is undoubtedly as ancient as humanity itself, the time frame of a mere two decades in this study appears relatively brief. I will specifically concentrate on dining out during our leisure time and analyze the transformations that have occurred in our customs. In this piece, I will explore the locations and timings of our meals, which, when considering the past, are quite remarkable.

Over the past decade, we have been increasingly tempted by the pleasures of eating. In addition to the usual options, such as fresh berries and sweet snacks, there are now more opportunities to indulge in savory and sweet pastries, beverages, and other treats. Kiosks, cafes, and restaurants have also popped up in shopping centers and on street corners, providing more places to satisfy our cravings. However, this abundance of food has only become accessible if you have the money to pay for it. Unlike before, there has never been a time in Finland where food is so readily available, just waiting to be grabbed and devoured.

Restaurants at dining establishments and restaurants, which were not explicitly defined as eating out, were studied. Eating out was also understood as eating out. While you can eat at home, snacks and take-away meals are sold and prepared by catering companies. However, traditional dining out or eating at a restaurant was not specifically defined in our study. Ready-made meals and snacks sold at supermarkets were excluded from the study. Similarly, snacks and meals sold and prepared by catering companies for take-away or home consumption were not explicitly defined as eating out or dining at a restaurant in our study. The Finnish Hospitality Association commissioned a study on Dining Trends at Restaurants, which included empirical data from conventional sources such as the Household Budget Survey and Statistics Finland. Little attention has been given to the increased snacking trend, even if it includes fast food, buns, and coffee. The Survey Use Time Finland’s report also distinguishes between meals and snacks, as well as coffees consumed on the go.

Initially, I will discuss some background information on eating based on earlier literature research. Next, I will take a look at the analysis of results related to eating using data from Finland’s Statistics Time Survey, spanning different decades. Then, I will move on to examine the eating practices and reasons for eating at restaurants, based on data from the Study on Dining Trends at Restaurants2. Finally, I will sum up the various sets of data produced and present my findings.

The studies confirm that the association between visits to various types of restaurants and the manifestation of dissimilarities is not as straightforward as it seems at a general level. The Economic theory argues that the higher the household income, the more frequently cooking will be outsourced. Eating out is particularly studied in countries where the restaurant industry is stronger, such as Finland, which is considered a result of tourism or older urban settlements.

Restaurants play an important role in the promotion of Finnish food culture. However, when families with children are traveling and find themselves in a situation where they need to eat quickly, they often choose to eat at fast-food restaurants instead of waiting for traditional dishes to be prepared at regular restaurants. This is motivated by the shortage of time and the busy lives of parents who are also working. Studies indicate that the likelihood of eating out increases when families live in urban areas with a high degree of urbanization, as well as when there is a higher level of education and a reasonably large income among the responsible person providing meals for the family. It seems that the choice of an expensive high-quality restaurant does not have a major effect on visits to ethnic places or fast-food pizzerias, while it does not seem to play a role in choosing a high-quality and expensive restaurant.

(Mehta & Chang 2008; Anderson & Matsa 2011). If you only had a small meal, as may be the case, it is unlikely that you will consume any more food when you arrive home. Advocates for fast food emphasize the fact that if you had a large meal at a restaurant. Many other factors related to our eating habits and lifestyle choices also influence weight management, as it has been difficult to definitively prove a connection between them and obesity. While fast-food restaurants are often associated with serving unhealthy food, they have specifically come under scrutiny. This concern has been sparked by the rise in obesity among young people, leading scientists to investigate the relationship between eating at restaurants and national health in recent years.

Unlike many Southern European countries, Finland has a strong tradition of communal eating, which is why meals at the workplace, including subsidized meals and free school lunches, have been governed by nutritional guidelines drawn up by experts for many years in establishments such as menus for planning meals that promote healthy salads and vegetables.

Data from the Time Use Survey on dining outside the home

To enable us to observe changes in a certain activity over time, it is important that the classifications we use should be similar. These classifications should allow us to compare periods and determine whether there have been any notable changes. Additionally, it is crucial to consider what matters when it comes to distinguishing between different meals. Surveys can help us trace overall patterns in eating habits, including the varying degrees of eating outside the home and the different meal times. In Finland, for example, the evening snack and afternoon dinner serve as the backbone of the ordinary eating pattern. The afternoon snack and afternoon coffee, lunch, and breakfast all contribute to the baseline energy needs.

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We rely on location codes to discover patterns, but note the duration of time spent eating. The latest Surveys Use Time has distinguished out eating as an excellent source of data in terms of its pattern and duration. Out eating was not separated from other eating in the 1987-1988 material. The activity took place where the data from 1979 showed that out eating was not separated from other classifications. Out eating can be traced through the classification of activities in the data use time. The changing attitudes towards eating at restaurants are clearly reflected in the classification of data from various decades, but out eating has not been one of these activities.

A rise in the duration dedicated to consuming meals seems to primarily stem from an increase in the duration devoted to consuming coffee and indulging in snacks. Figure 1 illustrates that eating is an essential daily task with minimal variations from year to year. Initially, I will provide an overview of the overall time spent on eating, followed by an examination of how meals are distributed throughout the day.

Figure 1. Duration of meals in 1987−1988, 1999−2000 and 2009−2010. Minutes per day.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time.

The Survey on Time Use notes that the average person spends the day eating meals of varying numbers. It is important to mention that there has been no increase in eating at restaurants, which may be a result of having take-away meals at the workplace or an increase in unemployment. On the other hand, there has been a slight decline in eating at the workplace among this age group. There has been no change in this figure over the past twenty years. However, the group consisting of individuals aged 25 to 34 often eats at restaurants the most. These meals account for over 10 percent of their total meals, with another 20 percent being taken at a restaurant, student cafeteria, or workplace. On the other hand, individuals aged 20 to 24, who frequently eat outside of their homes, spend 60 percent of their time eating at home. It is important to note that this figure includes not only meals but also snacks. For the proportion of meals taken at home, compared to meals eaten outside of the home, it is not specified.

Figure 2. The location where individuals consume their meals categorized by age group in the years 2009-2010. Percentage of total meals consumed.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time..

The incidence of having meals in another household is high, which is an interesting feature. In this millennium, it is common to eat at a restaurant, school, or workplace, and it is even more common. Cooking together is also a pastime enjoyed by groups of friends, and going to your parents’ house for a meal presumably means another household. Those in retirement tend to eat at home. In 2009-2010, they spent over 10 percent more time eating out compared to 1987-1988, when hardly any age group ate out. However, this reduction in eating out has not been compensated for, as the time spent on having meals at home has clearly declined. The fact is that meals have been replaced by snacks. The time spent on snacks and coffee increases from 55 minutes a day for those aged 45-54 to 55 minutes a day for those aged 55-64. In the age group of 55-64, snacks partly replace regular meals for people in the working age. In older age groups, the time spent on snacks further increases by a couple of minutes a day.

Sivun alkuun…..

More flexible schedules for meals on weekends

The pattern of mealtimes on Saturdays seems to always involve snacking at any given time of the day, but to some extent, it indicates that we have become accustomed to only having a proper single meal on weekends, either for breakfast or dinner. The share of snacks has increased. Some of these meals are taken at home, while others are taken at restaurants. We don’t have a consistent pattern for dinner or lunch, and the latest studies indicate that this change has been permanent. While we still had clear-cut times for dinner and lunch in the late 1980s, this has all gone out the window by the turn of the millennium. A major change has taken place in our eating patterns during the weekend. On the other hand, during weekdays, the schedule of mealtimes is kept regular by eating at school or at a restaurant for students or at work. The pattern of meals has somewhat changed over the last few decades.

Figure 3. Meal patterns on Saturdays in 1987-1988. The percentage of participants who were consuming a meal.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time..

Figure 4. Meal patterns on Saturdays during the years 2009-2010. The percentage of participants who were consuming a meal.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time..

Women often engage in more secondary activities, such as social interaction or work, when combined with activities like reading the newspaper in the afternoon. It is also common for them to have a snack or coffee in the morning while engaging in secondary activities, rather than making it a primary activity by having a full meal. We analyzed the data to discover how often eating was recorded as a secondary activity. For example, in the diary entries, figures describe eating as a secondary activity rather than the main activity, emphasizing the social interaction that takes place during a meal.

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Sivun alkuun…..

The analysis of the survey conducted by Use Time includes figures that encompass all participants aged over 10. It includes the various types of eating, such as snacks and meals, and distinguishes between eating alone and eating with acquaintances, family members, or your spouse. Roughly speaking, spending time together is classified as Figure In. The Survey Use Time also investigates how often we eat with others, specifically focusing on how often we eat with others. Drawing from this, it is often the motivation for eating out that stems from hospitality, meeting friends, and considering it a social activity.

Figure 5. Dining solo and with companions in 2009-2010. Percentage.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time..

At the points in time examined, 23% of the individuals dined alone with either their partner or acquaintances, while 24% shared meals with family members and acquaintances. On average, approximately 30% of the respondents participated in these dining scenarios.

In a different family structure, such as being a part of a different type of family, 37% of individuals lived by themselves, 39% lived with a partner, and 24% of survey participants. It is important to note that living alone is often linked to eating alone. Additionally, one in five people dine in solitude, while our evening meal is typically enjoyed with family members and acquaintances, our lunch is usually shared with acquaintances, and our breakfast is commonly consumed alone, as depicted in Figure 5.

Sivun alkuun…..

Events for dining out

In this section, I will separately discuss the manner in which we dine when we are traveling, during our leisure time, and on working days. The desires and requirements related to eating outside of our homes vary depending on the circumstances in which individuals choose or are compelled to dine out. To examine the settings and distinctive characteristics of dining out, I will utilize an analysis grounded in the Study on the Trends of Dining at Restaurants.

Indicating that we also want meals to be effortless in our working time, the location of the restaurant has increasingly become important in recent years. Quality food was a key criterion for selecting a restaurant. They also enjoyed the food at the restaurant of their choice. Many also felt that it was easier to bring a packed lunch rather than going out. The majority of those who ate at work, about 70 percent, considered this routine activity as part of their day. According to a study on eating trends, about 40 percent of all meals were related to work. Eating on working days usually refers to a recurrent lunch taken in the same place, including day-care centers and student restaurants.

During their holiday, they took the opportunity to enjoy a fifth meal while being away from home, and one respondent in the study on dining trends mentioned that they had their last meal while on a business trip. The proportion of eating outside the home significantly increases during free time, especially when traveling on the road or at bus or train terminals where food kiosks are available. Additionally, there are roadside restaurants built on major roads and fast food hotels in car terminals where we can have breakfast during those times. Furthermore, while traveling on the metro or in the car, it is common to have coffee or snacks, as eating while commuting is associated with these activities.

It is possible that restaurants in the countryside have taken on the role of dining establishments. Contrary to what one might expect, the most typical type of meal for lunch is often found in roadside restaurants between 6 am and 10 pm. People living in rural areas and small towns often rely more on roadside restaurants for their meals compared to those living elsewhere. These restaurants are used less frequently by students, employees, and managers. Particularly, older individuals, retirees, and those over the age of 50 tend to use these restaurants more than others. Roadside restaurants are typically established in connection with service stations, where people stop during their journey to have a snack or a meal.

Travellers often felt the need to buy snacks when visiting frequented places, such as delis and kiosks. This was more often the case for younger respondents, who often felt that buying a snack was the reason for their frequent visits. The respondents who did not have the possibility of having a proper meal often felt the need to buy snacks, as they did not have any other options. The study on eating trends found that less than half of the respondents bought snacks while traveling. They said that buying snacks was a natural part of eating while traveling.

Dining out in the comfort of our own home is often an alternative to having a meal at a restaurant, which can be done more effortlessly and easily. One of the reasons cited by four out of the respondents is the ability to extend hospitality and entertain, giving them an opportunity to meet with family members or friends. The common reasons for dining out during our free time differ from work-related reasons.

Older individuals who live alone, as well as couples and parents with young children, tend to eat out less frequently than childless couples. This pattern has remained consistent over the past few decades, with those who are older and live alone and childless couples being the ones who eat out the least. The greatest changes in eating out habits occur during weekends, when there is a higher incidence of free time.

Sivun alkuun…..

Reduced duration at dining establishments

Restaurants or cafés are known as socializing venues, where people can study, stay up-to-date with the latest trends, and so on. This activity, later called “socializing at restaurants,” emerged as a popular pastime in the past decade. In 1987-1988 and 1979, sitting and dancing at bars, as well as going to restaurants, were two categories of activities. The changes in the names of these categories reflect how behavioral models and attitudes have evolved. Surveys conducted over the decades have shown that socializing at restaurants is a prevalent activity, often associated with having drinks and meals, and it allows for social interaction. In conclusion, I will examine the social interaction aspect of socializing at restaurants, which is often accompanied by drinks and meals.

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During the 2009-2010 period, individuals under the age of 45 spent less than a minute per day engaging in this particular activity, while those aged 45 and above spent at least 25 minutes alone. Young couples without children spent a significant amount of time in cafes and restaurants on weekends, whereas single parents and childless couples spent the least amount of time socializing in pubs and cafes.

Most establishments shut down at midnight, as this was the designated closing hour. The duration of dining or socializing in a bar was significantly shorter back then compared to today, whereas during the late 1980s, individuals specifically frequented restaurants to enjoy their time and dance. The transformation in the role of restaurants throughout the decades is depicted in Figure 6. Nevertheless, on Saturdays, the percentage is notably higher, with the range fluctuating between 5 and 9 percent during Saturday evenings in the Helsinki Metropolitan area. While, on average, only one percent of the population aged 10 or older spends time at restaurants, this data describes the nationwide situation and the average for all days. Meal consumption is more evenly spread out throughout the day, while socializing at a restaurant primarily occurs in the evening. Figure 6 illustrates the proportion of the population aged 10 or older who were present at a restaurant at different times of the day.

Figure 6 examines the distribution of visits to restaurants, cafés, and pubs throughout the day in the years 1987-1988, 1999-2000, and 2009-2010. It shows the percentage of the population aged 10 or above on an average day of the year who engaged in this activity.

Source: Statistics Finland. Survey on the Use of Time..

Socializing in restaurants appears to be a slightly longer activity before it even starts in the evenings. The latter is explained by the fact that on Saturdays, practice meals are scheduled later than on weekends. The latest Use Time Survey from 2009-2010 indicates that we spend our time evenly throughout the day, with peak times being after midnight and during lunchtime. In the late 1980s, considerably more time was spent in restaurants in the afternoon, compared to night time. At the turn of the millennium, people were more likely to have a meal, rather than just lunch.

It is easy to go out for a meal on weekdays in the Metropolitan Helsinki area, mainly due to the associated working time. It is likely that these differences reflect the reasons and occasions for eating out. It is easy to go out for a meal in the Metropolitan Helsinki area during your free time. The differences between weekdays and weekends in terms of eating at restaurants are major in the Metropolitan Helsinki area, but minor elsewhere in Finland and Northern Finland.

Sivun alkuun…..

Earnings, age, perspectives, and restaurant availability all influence dining outside of home.

Pensioners and rural areas have become the preferred locations for roadside restaurants. This can be attributed to a combination of attitudes and the availability of restaurants. The frequency of eating out is influenced by various factors beyond just income. However, there are signs of change in this regard. Older individuals do not seem to frequent restaurants, even if they have a good income and young children do not hinder them from going out. On the other hand, childless young couples are dining out more frequently than ever before. This shift has occurred gradually over a span of two to three decades. Families with children fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Couples and individuals aged 45 or above are the least likely to eat out, while young people in their twenties and thirties who live alone and childless couples are the most frequent restaurant-goers. The distribution of restaurant dining within the population is highly uneven. The findings from the Time Use Survey and the study on eating out trends consistently reflect people’s experiences of dining outside the home, despite differences in the data.


Anderson, Michael L. & Matsa, David A. 2011. Are dining establishments truly enlarging America? American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3(January).

In 1998, Atanu Saha and Oral Capps, along with J. Patrick Byrne, conducted an analysis of the expenses related to the management of Agribusiness and Food International. The study focused on the expenditures associated with upscale and mid-scale restaurants, as well as quick-service establishments.

Lankinen, Heikki 2008. Trend Research 2008: Every tenth restaurant meal is enjoyed somewhere other than in a restaurant. Vitriini 8.

The availability and weight status of a restaurant were analyzed in a multilevel study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2008 by Wirginia V. And Neil K. Mehta, Chang.

The International Journal of Hospitality Management in England focuses on the social and cultural aspects of dining out, with a particular emphasis on market differentiation. This research is conducted by Martens, Lydia, Warde, Alan, and Kay Wendy Olsen.

Promotion Programme for Finnish Food Culture (Sre) 2009. Family in a restaurant. Http://www.Sre.Fi/ruoka.Fi/www/fi/tulokset.Php.

Helsinki’s National Consumer Research Centre published a report titled “Eating Habits in Changing Perspectives: 1990-2010.” The report, authored by Johanna & Peltoniemi, Ari Varjonen in 2012, explores the transformations in eating habits over the two-decade period.

The study conducted by Varjonen and Peltoniemi and published by the National Consumer Research Centre in 2012, titled “Eating out as a reflection of changes in eating habits 1990-2010,” is referenced in Publications 1/2012 of the National Consumer Research Centre.

During that time frame, the findings apply to individuals who had dined out at least once. The Finnish Hospitality Association MaRa provided their data from 2008 and 2010 to the National Consumer Research Centre for the aforementioned study. Individuals aged 15 or older were asked if they had dined at a restaurant in the two weeks prior to the interview in the MaRa study.

Päivitetty 20.3.2013.

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